The first coal-fired generator at the Big Bend power generation facility in Tampa, Florida was built in 1970. There are now 4 such generators at Big Bend. The facility is owned by TECO, a company also engaged in mountaintop-removal mining in Kentucky and Virginia. Coal arrives at the facility on barges and by rail.
There are several waste byproducts of burning coal for energy, including fly ash and bottom ash. In 2011, almost 10 billion pounds of coal ash were generated from the Big Bend plant. The majority of that was stored onsite in 11 storage ponds.Despite its toxic nature, coal ash is not regulated by the federal government and only minimally so by state legislators. In fact, Florida’s regulations are particularly lax even though our high water table makes our groundwater particularly susceptible to contamination. Coal ash may be stored in uncovered, unlined and unmonitored storage areas, and it often contains arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxic substances that can make their way into groundwater or the Bay.
Much of the coal waste from this plant is sold off for re-use in products such as cement, roofing shingles, and asphalt pavement . Some uses may expose the public to toxins. Coal ash is not currently classified as a hazardous waste, and a recently passed bill (FL SB 682) prohibits Florida from re-classification. It also allows coal waste to be used in ways that are hazardous to human health and waterways. Read more here. There are also federal efforts underway to further regulate coal ash.
Cooling Water Intake
Section 316 of the Clean Water Act regulates “Thermal Discharges” into bodies of water, but it also regulates the systems that produce those thermal discharges – namely the cooling water intake systems in power plants. It requires facilities to use the best available technology to minimize harm to the environment. As water gets sucked into these cooling water intake systems through large pipes, it can cause marine life to be affected in two ways. One way is through impingement, which is when fish and other organisms become drawn to and stuck on the screens on the intake pipes and suffer injuries or death. The other way is through entrainment, which is when smaller organisms are drawn into the pipe and die from exposure to high pressure and temperature. The EPA estimates that 2.1 billion fish, crabs and shrimp are killed each year through impingement and entrainment at TECO Big Bend.
There are also thermal effects associated with the output from the cooling water intake system. The amount of water that is drawn into Big Bend each day averages around 1.5 billion gallons. Heated water can harm indigenous fish that are not adapted to it. If local fish do adapt, plant shutdowns for repairs or other reasons, can cause shock when temperatures drop. Heated water also causes algae growth that can reduce the oxygen content of the water, endangering other sea life. Extremes of high-temperature and low dissolved-oxygen conditions in the discharge from TECO Big Bend have been implicated in increased fish kills in the discharge canal. Measurements for compliance with discharge limitations on temperature are made more than 1000 meters downstream of the actual points of discharge.
Check out this article from Florida Sportsman for more information on these impacts.
EPA performed an economic analysis based on benefits transfer associated with the impingement and entrainment that occurs at Big Bend. The result was an estimated economic loss of around $60,000 per year for impingement and around $7 million per year for entrainment.  Not only is Big Bend harming the environment, but it is costing us money as well.
EPA has recently issued new rules regulating existing facilities under Phase II of Section 316(b). The rulemaking covers roughly 1,065 existing facilities that are designed to withdraw at least 2 million gallons per day of cooling water. EPA estimates that 521 of these facilities are factories, and the other 544 are power plants.
- The facilities are required to choose one of seven options to reduce fish impingement.
- Facilities that withdraw at least 125 million gallons per day must conduct studies to help their permitting authority determine whether and what site-specific controls, if any, would be required to reduce entrainment of aquatic organisms.
- New units added to an existing facility are required to reduce both impingement and entrainment that achieves one of two alternatives under national entrainment standards.
- EPA has concluded Endangered Species Act consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Suncoast Waterkeeper has joined several other organizations in suing under the Clean Water Act to force the EPA to re-consider their new Rule, which fails to adequately consider impacts on endangered species. Read HERE for more about our lawsuit.
Big Bend's permit is up for renewal at the end of 2016. LETS MOUNT A CHALLENGE!!!!
We are committed to ensuring that the data we present are as accurate as possible. We will correct any errors that are verifiable.
 Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Toxicological Profiles. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/index.asp
 TECO Environmental Report 2008